Michael McKinley
Artist Transforms Steel Into Wood
By Painting World Renowned Baseball Bat
Michael explaining the project

Michael explaining the project
Photo - Mark's Online Graphics Site (C) 2002

(November 23, 2002) -  Imagine a painter towering 125 feet above downtown Louisville Kentucky while suspended from a crane examining the handle on a baseball bat.  The end of the handle on this particular baseball bat is 6 1/2 feet across and the business end of the bat measures 9 feet in diameter.  The 120 foot tall Louisville Slugger baseball bat is an exact scaled replica manufactured out of steel.

The towering steel structure is anchored to the ground in front of the Hillerich & Bradsby Louisville Slugger Museum on Main Street in downtown Louisville Kentucky.  The world renowned steel structure weighs in at 68,000 pounds and was recently hand painted by Indiana artist Michael McKinley.

I visited the Museum in September 2002 and had the pleasure of talking with the artist about the project.  It was inspiring to witness the transformation from base-coated steel into wood grain on a portion of the 120 foot replica.  That morning also offered me the opportunity to serve as the ground consultant for two hours via two-way radio while the Indiana artist worked high above the ground blending acrylic colors into realism.  I was honored to have been afforded the privilege of assisting with such a project for a brief moment.

I visited the project again in November 2002.  Witnessing the artist in action as he refined the narrow water grains alongside an incredible likeness of spoon grains was exhilarating.  Simply being there as he worked enabled me to put the scope of the artist's project into proper perspective.

Upon completion of the project each square inch of the 120 foot steel structure had been hand painted using a 2 inch artist's brush.

       - Mark D McKinley  [Mark's Online Graphics Site]

The Interview  You recently completed an unusual project in a setting that required you to work in front of an ever-changing and quite curious audience.  You became an added attraction for people from not only around the United States, but from around the world, when they visited the Louisville Slugger Museum.  The 120 foot baseball bat is the first thing visitors see when arriving at the museum.  When you were painting the bat is there one experience that stands out in terms of the interaction you had with an inquisitive spectator?

Michael McKinley:  One experience?  No.  Kids are usually awestruck at the sight of a giant bat leaning over the edge of a five-story building, and almost everyone who comes to the museum takes a picture.  I really enjoyed talking to the people who work in the area.  They were very supportive.  It felt like a shared experience.  What aspect of this project presented your biggest challenge in terms of accepting this job?

Michael McKinley:   I had to be sure that I could reach every square inch of the bat.  Initially they had planned to build a scaffold around it, but that didn't seem possible, given the angle of the bat.  And then there was the problem of climbing up and down a scaffold.  They decided to go with a man-basket and crane.  Later they moved to a JLG lift that could be operated from the platform.  This gave me complete independence.  Much greater mobility.  I liked it.  How did you decide where to begin on a project of this scale?

Michael McKinley:  A good friend helped me get started.  He divided a real R43 model bat horizontally and vertically, using graphics tape.  He then made high-resolution photo enlargements of each section, and arranged them into loose-leaf binders.  The plan was to grid the big bat accordingly, and draw my way down and around the bat.  I eventually realized that the big bat did not have the same contours as the real one.  Relying on the photos, I was drawing some serious distortions in the grains.  I decided to use the wood bat as reference, but had to modify some of the grains as I went.  Working from a basket, suspended 120 feet in the air by a crane, is bound to present unique difficulties for a painter.  Would you explain one of the difficulties?

Michael McKinley:  A rope, that looped around the bat, was tied off at both ends of the basket.  It kept it from swinging too wildly. The wind still pushed me around, making it very difficult to draw, measure, or paint.  Did other problems arise, creating further difficulties for you?

Michael McKinley:  Lack of perspective.  I couldn't tell if I had been successful at any feature without viewing it from the ground.  I had some help via 2-way radio on several occasions.  That was an enormous benefit.

Another problem was getting control of the water based paint.  Wind and high temperatures made it pretty difficult to blend.  When I talked with you in September, you mentioned one hurdle involving different paint manufacturers.  Their use of different pigmentation to achieve similar colors created a problem for you.  Why did those differing paint formulas create a problem?

Michael McKinley:  The new pigmentation formulas resulted in a less desirable secondary color when the paints were mixed together.  I made a swatch of the color I was looking for, and ordered more paint.  Let's shift our focus toward the artist.  What medium do you find most rewarding in terms of transferring thoughts through brush strokes?

Michael McKinley:  Actually, the medium I find most rewarding is a stick of charcoal. What visual images offered you artistic inspiration twenty years ago.

Michael McKinley:  I enjoy doing caricatures.  People inspire me.  Do people continue to serve as your inspiration?  If so, please explain why.

Michael McKinley:  Yeah.  It is great to be able to capture the essence of a person in a few strokes.  It is such a hoot when you can share it with that person and they really "get it."  If you were asked to express a favorite song in a painting, what size would the canvas be, and what colors would you start with?

Michael McKinley:  I'm not sure about the color …but the canvas would be large.  If you were offered two weeks to relax and get away from it all - where would you like to go?

Michael McKinley:  Wyoming.  I'd like to get out there again.  It is vast, and breathtaking.  Would a sketch pad be found amongst your luggage?

Michael McKinley:  Probably not .......... I have a camera.  (laughter)  ....... (laughter)

    (C) 2002 Mark's Online Graphics Site



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